An Eye for an Eyelet.

It is still fairly crazy to me how far I have come over the past couple of years. I said to my friend recently that I am enjoying being engaged so much, I do not want to miss a minute of this time, expedited though it is. However, it isn’t just our engagement that has made this particular time in my life so happy. A lot of changes had to occur to get here, and I am thankful every day these changes happened, whether by chance or by my own doing.

I’ve been super into capsule wardrobes lately and the simplicity they offer, and when I was designing mine recently, I uncovered this adorable, white eyelet lace wrap dress I picked up from Ann Taylor Loft roughly five years ago. (Luckily, white appeared within my capsule color palette, and so this dress made it into the “keep” pile.) I remember trying this dress on at the store, something I rarely take the time to do, and feeling like I looked amazing. I bought it, but never found the right time to wear it. It always seemed too “bridal” to me to wear a white dress, and so I just decided to save it until I was engaged and could wear it to a shower or rehearsal dinner or something.

The time is nigh, right? Wrong. When I pulled the dress out of the inner crevices of my closet, I saw that it was covered in black and brown stains, from the collar all the way down to its cutesy little midi bell skirt. This discovery stopped me right in my tracks.

On June 1st, 2014, my apartment burned down.

Alright, alright, if you know me, you know this story. You may even be a little sick of this story. So, CliffsNotes version: I broke up with my partner of 6 years in February of 2014. I found an apartment I absolutely loved in Bucktown. I felt safe, complete, and happy there. It changed my whole perspective and outlook living there. On May 31st, after Do Division Fest and watching Wet Hot American Summer, I went to sleep, and just a few hours later, at 4am on June 1st, 2014, I found myself desperately escaping a building that was burning down around me.

My boyfriend at the time woke me to an apartment filled with smoke and my poor dog crying for us to awaken. My windows broke before me, as firefighters, already in the building above my garden unit, tried desperately to ax in the glass to ventilate. I heard crash after crash of furniture and roof tiles falling and being thrown out of the apartment above me. Glass rained down everywhere as we ran through it all, sparkling like diamonds and sharply pinching into my bare shoulders.

By 9 am the building was gone.

By 2 pm, I realized my home was gone.

My best friend Brett and my ex-boyfriend moved what we could salvage out the front door while I stood in the rubble and stared. Stared at the life I had only just started to build, the safety and comfort I had only just established, the home I had only just lived in for three months. I was fully in shock, and still was deeply disturbed and devastated by the loss. Brett instructed me to see what I could take from my bedroom closet, mostly to give me a concrete task to focus on. I stuffed tattered, smokey clothing into garbage bags. I pulled dresses and jeans from hangers, each of them wet and stained with the ashy, sooty, water from the high-powered hoses that ended the fire. The white dress was among what was salvaged.

That fire marked the lowest period in my life. That fire caused almost two months of homelessness and displacement. That fire caused extreme anxiety and PTSD symptoms in me that led me to therapy and medication to help me cope. That fire took years to rebuild from, emotionally, mentally, physically, financially, and socially. But rebuild I did, to become better than I was, and lead a life better than I’d had ever before. That’s not to say, though, that I don’t still have my fearful moments.

My fiance has watched me crumble and have trouble focusing at the slightest smell of burning. He has watched me check that the burners are off 11 times before leaving to go to a bar. He has held me as I watched a building in our neighborhood burn on the 3 year anniversary of my own fire. He even watched an episode of This Is Us with me when I realized that Jack’s death was a result of a house fire.

I believe I am healed, but I am fragile.

And when I found that dress and those stains last week, my gut instinct was to crumble. BUT – I did not.

I am living happier and fuller than I ever have, but I could not and would not be here without the pains and struggles of my past. Can you truly appreciate the good times if you do not know suffering? I appreciate every minute of my time and the people I know, because I also know what life was like on the flip side, before I knew what I know now.

So, no. I did not crumble. I grabbed my OxiClean stain stick and scrubbed the living shit out of those stains. Scrubbed what I had neglected to truly try to get rid of over the last four years. I threw those stains in my washer on high heat. I tumbled dry on low. And at long last, those stains are GONE. And that dress WILL be worn to a shower or rehearsal dinner or something.

That dress was bought and intended for a happy ending, and much like I have worked hard to give myself one, I should give it the very same respect.

Runner.

At some point within the last 24 hours, I began to consider myself a runner.

I think others have possibly considered me to be one prior to this time – my mom said recently she sees me as a natural runner and athlete. The thing is, though, it is a title I have not (and couldn’t) readily give myself. It could be my perpetual low self-esteem, the fact that I am a perfectionist, the fact that I know people who are actually professional runners, or just the fact that my frequency of training and racing has decreased over the past few years, but regardless the reason, “runner” is not exactly how I describe myself to people.

I have never run a full marathon. My speed isn’t anything to brag about. I don’t necessarily LOVE running every single day. But I DO do it. I lace up, I sweat, I push, I try to convince myself I’m not cramping up and my breathing will get more comfortable within the next mile. And though I could downplay it and act like I am perpetually terrible, the fact remains that my hard work and dedication to this mind-game sport that I love, hate, and love to hate, has paid off in improvement. Want to know a big reason why?

This Chick!

Let me tell you about a girl I know named Serena. She cool. Actually, she’s way more than that. She is incredibly loyal, enthusiastic, and empathetic. When I injured myself in February, the day before I was supposed to start training for a half marathon that I convinced her to run with me, she did not let me give up. Even before I got the actual diagnosis and recovery plan from my doctor, Serena was supportive. She was equal parts cheerleader and nurse: counting down the days until I could get back on my feet and start running and also violently demanding I do not cheat on my recovery plan and start trying to run just because my pain wasn’t excruciating. I took two very boring, very sedentary weeks off, and I got an update every day from her of how many more days until I could run again. Honestly, that unwavering belief in my recovery really aided me in believing in it myself.

And so we went to Louisville. I had trained as much as I could: Serena dragged my slow, corpse body all over Logan Square in one 10 mile run in the rain. In Milwaukee the weekend before the race, we crushed a 5 miler along the lakefront and River Walk. And come race day, I was nervous, but undeniably supported. I do not generally like running with people. I make some strange faces and noises and I really despise looking weak. And yet, having Serena run every step of the way with me, assuring me my pace wasn’t too slow, promising me we were almost done and there were beers at the finish line, allowing me a weak moment when I got a charlie horse in my calf from dehydration, allowed me to keep going, and ultimately pull of a PR on a half marathon.

This is the face of relief. I would have been fine being done about three miles earlier.

I have run seven half marathons now, and the only time I have even come close to this pace was when I was 23 and followed a professional training and diet plan to a T. I feel incredibly fortunate to have pulled off this time, injury or no. It is also just different. The last time I ran a half marathon, my house had burned down three weeks prior, and I was homeless, wearing borrowed shoes, and running with something to prove (survival?). The last time I ran the Derby Festival Mini, I was miserably stuck in a relationship, had no friends I was allowed to see, trusted no one, and was at odds with my family. I think I crossed the finish line and made me way through to the after party by myself. So, despite feeling terrible for the last third of the race this time, running with someone who supported me, meeting my amazing parents and the love of my life at the finish line, it just reemphasized what I have thought of so much lately:

I am so lucky and happily surrounded by good people at this time.

Not too shabby!

The best part of this PR? I was not all that sore after! I got an amazing bath and nap in, and managed to hit up the best parts of Louisville with my friends! We even went to the bar where my parents met: Gerstle’s. It was…it was a shit show. But we still had fun.

Not visible: the fact that Tom and Kurt are ghosts here.

And so, flash forward to the week after this momentous weekend for this “non”- runner: I got in three training runs and ran a 5k in Wrigleyville back here in Chicago. I learned some valuable tidbits at the Race to Wrigley:

1.) Courses with more turns are far more interesting and go by faster. This course was boring.

2.) Do NOT think that just because you ran a half marathon a week before that you can enjoy libations at the Derby party you chose to throw the night before. A mile and a half in, I had to wave Serena on so she didn’t see the unseeable: me tossing my cookies out on Irving Park. (I ended up only dry heaving…still embarrassing. How old am I? Be responsible, Julia.)

3.) If you are physically miserable, however, you WILL run faster to get it over with. And so, I finished with my best split miles ever recorded in a race, despite being a little, well, hungover.

Still had my cheerleader, despite my weak stomach and lack of willpower in the face of tequila.

And so, I guess I am a runner. And though it is a painful, exhausting, challenging sport, I love it. In fact, I love it more than ever. I don’t want to stop anytime soon.

One Fourth.

I am currently in shock that it is April. Not only just because we have an inch of snow on the ground and my teaching-stamina seems exceptionally low for having almost three more months of school, but also because so far, 2018 has flown by. To think we are already a quarter of the way through the year is just bonkers to me. It feels like time has sped up, and I am worried about all the things I am probably missing.

On Friday night, I stayed in, and in between eating Stromboli in bed and watching a Casey Anthony true crime documentary, I reflected on everything I have done so far this year. I started this blog in January and set out all these lofty goals about living a healthier, more fulfilled life, where my priority is me and my own self-care. Though it has not felt like it at times, and I’ve been downright cranky over some of the year’s setbacks, I realized that I have totally been keeping up with my goals this year so far. It feels really wonderful to sit down and think about everything that has happened so far this year. Let’s recap:

January

In January, I went to the Wisconsin Dells with Kurt’s family for a belated Christmas celebration. I am fairly obsessed with Kurt’s family: some of the nicest people I have ever encountered. It is also incredibly healing and reparative to spend time with his newest nephew, who was four months old at the time of the trip. Since the loss of my own nephew, I have been wary around babies. Yet, spending time with O has made me feel calmer, more comfortable, and more confident about the idea of babies again. It’s given me hope.

Now, Wisconsin Dells DID offer my own personal hell when I was weighed in a bathing suit in front of a line of people (including Kurt’s family). However, that instance also inspired me to change my eating habits and become healthier. Through that evil, evil water slide scale, I discovered Keto and am already down 8 pounds. So, yes. Water slide scales might be from the devil himself, but also inspired me.

Capping off January was my trip to Orlando with my best friend and his fiance. I cannot even begin to describe the joy I felt on this trip. I got to be a kid again, let my imagination explore, and just laugh with two wonderful people all weekend. Disney has upped its game, and the latest rides and attractions were so wonderful. We went to Universal Studios as well (Casey Anthony’s former employer…guys, that documentary was good…) and I had never visited that park before. I loved it, to put it simply, and want to spend way more time there next time I am in Orlando.

The family I have been babysitting for for 7 years or so happened to be in Orlando at the same time I was, and we got to meet up while at Universal Studios. The older boy just started reading Harry Potter, and I had been reading it out loud to both of the boys in the weeks leading up to the trip. It was incredibly special to share my love for the wizarding world with them, and also to experience the park with them for the first time. The older boy even went on his first roller coaster with me! I have a LOT of love for this family, and was so glad they got to be a part of my trip.

All in all, January was a pretty baller month.

February

February did not start off so great. I was very pumped at the start of the month. I was starting the Keto diet, had started taking Collagen Peptides for my skin, and was on the cusp of starting my half marathon training and rehearsals for The Chicago Red Line, a cabaret group I had been invited to join. Some new socks and a wooden staircase later, I ended up in the ER with a sprained back. I could not put any weight on my right side for almost four days, which led to Kurt dragging me around and waiting on me hand and foot.

It was frustrating as hell, but thank goodness I know so many kind people. Coworkers who drove me to school and offered to move my kids around the building. Friends who offered me kind words and kept me patient while I was laid out resting. Then I got impatient and started running again…which led to further injury. Mid-February found me with not only the sprained back, but also a sprained quad. This stress injury almost killed my spirit, as I then had doctor’s orders to take an additional two weeks off from any physical activity at all.

I am incredibly lucky to have such amazing people in my life who kept me going. Serena offered to run the half marathon with me no matter what pace I had to do it at. She sent me daily texts counting down how many more days til I could run again. My mom bolstered my confidence by saying she thinks of me as a runner, and knows I will succeed even without perfect training. Kurt packed me down with ice and heat every night, and took on all the household chores.

February could have been a total downer, but it just wasn’t. February proved to me how many incredible people I know, and how lucky I am for their support. Also, I finally did get to start rehearsals with Red Line, and it has been such a positive addition to my week. This group has invited me in with no questions asked, and is accepting of my quirks and talents. There is so much room for creativity and personality, and the show we are creating is the exact kind of artistic outlet I had been sorely missing over the past couple of years. It’s been truly an uplifting experience working with them.

March

March was an incredibly positive month. In March, I received clearance to run again once my quad sprain had properly healed. Despite the cold, it has been awesome running pain free. I have to make sure I take two days off between runs, and ice fairly regularly, but I seem to be (knock on wood) officially back on the mend. I am still doing physical therapy twice a week for my back, but it’s getting stronger and stronger!

The biggest event of March was getting Lasik done on my eyes. I have been legally blind since first or second grade, and had always assumed my astigmatism was so severe that my eyes were inoperable. Not so, said LasikPlus in Lincoln Park. Let me start by saying I was extremely nervous morning-of, and had zero sedatives. They did offer me Tylonel PM, which I took, but I was not NEARLY as relaxed as the guy in front of me who was high as a kite on Valium.

The procedure took less than 10 minutes (Kurt timed it) and then I was on my merry way. Though I did not feel any pain, the overall experience is a little alarming. You can feel pressure, there is a lot of noise, and it smells. There are a dozen people in the room, rushing about, muttering to each other, ushering you to different tables with different lasers, taking professional photos of you (??? see above), and it can feel overwhelming. An hour after we left, I wanted to be put out of my misery. My eyes burned so badly, and I couldn’t touch them or do anything to make myself comfortable. I mostly just cried until I eventually slept. Once I woke up though, I could see. I could just see. It’s pretty incredible.

“Make it a habit to tell people thank you. To express your appreciation, sincerely and without the expectation of anything in return. Truly appreciate those around you, and you’ll soon find many others around you. Truly appreciate life, and you’ll find that you have more of it.” – Ralph Marston

So, the first quarter of the year is down, and I am feeling pretty accomplished. Obviously, I don’t always share the day to day on here, but let me just say, my job is still amazing. Spring Break was necessary, but I am feeling very positive about my kids and their growth right now. I love my school, and am just feeling like a strong team member right now at work.

I had a thought this morning: I have known some truly shitty people, and now I do not. And now, after a long reflection, allow me to add: I have known some truly shitty times, and now I do not. Things are just good right now. It frightens me to type that out, because historically, when things go well for me, they get taken away in some kind of large, traumatic fashion. However, living in fear of acknowledging what I have is disrespectful, for I want the world to know how thankful and content I am. So, with a deep exhale and crossed fingers, let me just say: 2018 is my year.

Perfection.

I am a perfectionist. Tried and true. Everything I take on, I do with 100% of my attention, intelligence, energy, integrity, and emotions.

This is my worst quality.

The thing about perfectionists is that we tend to put an exorbitant amount of pressure on ourselves, pressure that does not match what others even expect of us. We push ourselves to our limits, and then, when things do not go perfectly, we break.

I do this in work: I want total control and predictability in my job. I want everything to go smoothly. I want to be the best educator possible, with students who grow and learn and feel emotionally and academically supported at all times. I bend over backwards and work long hours to make sure I do things first, best, and most thoroughly. And then I feel lonely and like I’m not good enough when I’m not recognized for that. Kind of stupid, but it’s how I operate.

I do this socially: To put it simply, I have had issues with friends. I have put all of my faith and trust into people who have ultimately betrayed me and taken advantage of my kindness in ways I cannot forgive. I know my standards, and I know when someone’s behavior does not come close to meeting what I find to be acceptable. I have deeply analyzed my own faults and flaws, and decided a few years ago to make sure I am being as kind, patient, and level-headed as possible with other people. Unfortunately, people do not always take on relationships with the same mentality. I bend over backwards trying to make people like me and respect me who just never will. And then, the Perfectionist inside me beats me up for failing.

I do this to myself: Cue Radiohead.

Image result for radiohead just gif

When I decide on a goal I’d like to meet, I want to do it and do it the best. So this leads to me, say, running seven painful miles on a sprained quad and thinking to myself “shake it off. Don’t be weak.” And that nagging, shitty, perfectionist voice leads me to having to take two frustrating weeks off from all physical activity, my muscles’ aggravated “I told you so” to my brain. This may be a personal example. Maybe.

Being a perfectionist is a curse, really. I constantly let no one down but myself, and only because I will never be able to please myself. The pressures I put upon myself are unfair.

And so, post-injury, post-heartbreak, post-professional-frustration, I sit here and think, very seriously, how do I break the cycle of perfectionism? I don’t want to be like this. I want to be able to fail and feel joy in it.

And I have plenty of failures to choose from. The irony is that I am not perfect. I am far from it, and I know that. I just need to learn to let things go a bit. Not over-analyze the past, not push the current, and not imagine all possible scenarios of the future. I cannot control the world. Why would I even want to? That sounds stressful. As I decided a few years ago, my focus needs to be not on the “perfect” me, but on the me that is kind, open, level-heading, and aware. It will not be perfect, but it will be better. I will be better.

Immediacy

I have discussed with a friend multiple times how obnoxious the need for immediate results is. Most people, self-included, want to see some kind of progress right away when they set goals. Often, when that progress is not immediately evident, frustration takes over, and we throw in the towel on the goals, casting them into a pile labeled “impossible.”

It makes a lot of sense. Immediacy is pretty easy to come by. I have lamented many times socially that I hate when a random question is asked or piece of trivia challenged and rather than talk about it until the answer is realized or remembered, everyone just whips out their phones and Googles it. Pre-smart phone, my father and I once spent a nine hour road trip to Canada trying to come up with the name of the fortune telling machine in the movie “Big.”

(It was Zoltar. We remembered around Windsor.)Anyway, with smartphones putting the World Wide Web at our fingertips and the success of many businesses being based around their quickness (to deliver, to perform, to respond, to fix, to serve, to do ANYTHING as long as its fast), I suppose I can be understanding of the current mental need for immediate results.

But we can’t forget that any goal you set should be difficult, for, in my opinion, you should work for it. I like to earn my successes.

That being said, stepping on a scale two weeks after starting to change my eating habits and not seeing the number budge at all doesn’t feel great. Had I wanted the number to move down, a pound, two pounds (okay – 5-10)? Yeah. But should that have happened? Honestly, no.

I ate like a champ last week: clean eating, I had prepped breakfast and lunch every day, dinners were smart choices, and I tracked my calories on my Fitbit diligently. Then the weekend hit, and I went to Disney World. I didn’t go overboard I’d say: my breakfast the first morning was pretty much the same as it had been all week, but my lunches and dinners were larger and semi-shittier (Caprese panini and salad for lunch Day 1, and a Chicken Parmesan sandwich and fries for dinner. No snacking in between). We also walked 33,000+ steps that day, so I figured it would even out. Day 2 didn’t go quite as well (breakfast calzone, beef pasties and salad for lunch, and chicken Mac n cheese for dinner). By day 3, I pretty much sucked: soft pretzel and cheese for “breakfast,” chicken tenders and fries for lunch, beer and wine for dinner. Ummm. Not good.

While we were active all weekend and I was drinking mostly water, I did something I haven’t done in months: guzzled a few Diet Cokes. And my nightcaps of 2-3 glasses of wine weren’t great. So it, overall, wasn’t that healthy of a weekend.

Additionally, I didn’t go to the gym except for one day last week. I got in some cycling workouts on my bike at home, but I wasn’t lifting and overall, was not pushing my body.

And so, no weight dropped. I am back in town, and therefore back in control, though. I hit the ground running this week with clean eating and tracking calories. I am snacking a bit more between meals than I was last week, but really trying to keep it healthy and low-cal. I’ll check back in next week, and hopefully there’ll be some form of an update!